Brazil’s unemployment rate hit a record 13.8 percent from May to July as Latin America’s biggest economy suffered the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, according to official figures released Wednesday.
The rate is the highest since the current tracking method was introduced in 2012, and two percentage points above same period last year.
The previous record — 13.7 percent — was registered in the first quarter of 2017.
The South American giant of 212 million people has been hit hard by the new coronavirus, with nearly 143,000 people killed, the second-highest death toll worldwide after the United States.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has attacked stay-at-home measures imposed by state and local authorities and insisted on getting the economy reopened.
But economists say the policy fight may only be adding to the economic damage. And health experts warn that many states are trying to exit lockdown too fast.
Brazil is facing a record recession this year. The central bank is currently predicting a contraction of 5.04 percent — though the outlook has been improving steadily since June.
There were 13.1 million people looking for work in July, IBGE said.
The number of people who dropped out of the work force — a sign of how many have given up looking for jobs because of a lack of opportunities — also hit a record, at 5.8 million, a 20-percent increase from the same period last year.
“Besides taking people’s jobs, the pandemic made it difficult to look for work because of stay-at-home measures, business closures and health issues,” said IBGE official Adriana Beringuy.
In all, Brazil lost 11.6 million jobs in a year, the institute said.
Britain’s first beef exports to the United States in more than 20 years left Northern Ireland on Wednesday, six months after Washington lifted a ban, the government said.
“This is great news for our food and farming industry, who have estimated it will bring a £66 million ($85 million, 72 million euros) boost to beef producers over the next five years alone,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said.
Washington imposed restrictions on all EU beef exports in 1998 due to concerns about mad cow disease but has gradually eased them as it tries to negotiate a free trade deal with Brussels.
It has permitted Irish beef imports since 2015 and granted the Netherlands approval to renew its exports the following year.
Britain, which left the European Union on January 31 after the 2016 Brexit vote, received permission to restart its transatlantic beef shipments in March.
British herds were badly hit by mad cow disease — officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) — in the late 1980s and 1990s.
More than four million cows were slaughtered, then burned on huge pyres across the countryside, in an effort to contain the spread.
Eating infected beef can cause the degenerative brain condition variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (vCJD) in humans. In 2000, 24 people died in Britain from vCJD.
Britain is aiming to strike a free trade deal with the United States as the country tries to take advantage of life outside the EU from 2021.
Although the country formally left the bloc earlier this year, it is still abiding by EU rules in a standstill transition period until December 31.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the resumption of beef exports to the US “could be just the tip of the iceberg”.
“The free trade deal we are negotiating with the US will create a host of export opportunities for British agriculture,” she added.
“We are seeking an ambitious and high standards agreement that benefits farmers and delivers for consumers.”
Top diplomats from the United States, India, Australia and Japan will gather in Tokyo next week for rare face-to-face talks on tackling the coronavirus and strengthening co-operation, Japan said Tuesday.
The four nations have in recent years formed a strategic grouping — known as the “Quad” — meant to serve as a counterweight to China and promote their vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
The meeting on October 6 will be attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi announced he would host the four-way talks — the second such meeting after the first was held in New York last year.
“It is the right time for these like-minded foreign ministers to gather in Tokyo for face-to-face talks, to exchange views about how to deal with issues that have emerged from the spread of the coronavirus, along with regional affairs,” he told reporters at a regular briefing.
It will be the first ministerial-level international meeting hosted by Japan since the pandemic began, and also since Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga took power this month.
Japan is moving gradually to open its borders to more foreigners, particularly business travellers, as it prepares to hold the postponed Olympics next summer.
The United States welcomed on Monday Greece’s willingness to look for a solution to a territorial dispute with Turkey, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with Greek officials.
Rival claims to potentially resource-rich territory under the Mediterranean should be resolved “peacefully in accordance with international law”, said Pompeo and Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in a joint statement after holding talks in Thessaloniki.
The two NATO members have spent weeks at loggerheads after Ankara sent exploration vessels into disputed waters, roping in other European powers and raising concern about a wider escalation.
Turkey has also angered Greece by repeatedly casting doubt on postwar treaties setting out the status quo in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean.
But last week Athens and Ankara said they were ready to start talks.
“Let’s meet, let’s talk and let’s seek a mutually acceptable solution. Let’s give diplomacy a chance,” Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an address to the virtual UN General Assembly.
Pompeo, on a two-day visit to Greece, said in the joint statement that the US “welcomed Greece’s confirmed readiness to engage with other countries in the region to achieve maritime delimitation agreements”.
“The strength of our bilateral relationship is at an all-time high,” Pompeo tweeted earlier on Monday.
He will fly to the Greek island of Crete on Tuesday and tour the NATO naval base of Souda Bay.
Mitsotakis — who is hosting Pompeo at his family home on Crete — wants closer military ties with the US.
The secretary of state last October signed a defence agreement allowing US forces a broader use of Greek military facilities.
On Monday, both sides said they intended to “further enhance their strategic defence and security partnership” in talks in Washington next year.
A key element of the October deal was the northern Greek port of Alexandroupolis, a Balkans and Black Sea gateway of strategic value to the US navy and NATO.
The US has been granted priority status to the port after paying roughly $2.3 million (2 million euros) to remove a sunken dredging barge that had blocked part of the harbour since 2010.
At the time, Greek officials said the Pentagon was expected to invest over $14 million on the Greek airbase of Larissa and around six million euros at Marathi, part of the Souda base.
– Pressure on Huawei –
The visit to Thessaloniki is also intended as a sign to the Balkans on American willingness to invest in the region, the State Department said.
Pompeo signed a bilateral science and technology agreement, and hosted an energy sector gathering of business leaders.
Pompeo’s tour later in the week also includes stops in Italy, the Vatican and Croatia.
In Rome, the secretary of state will discuss efforts by the Trump administration to deter its European allies from using equipment by Chinese manufacturer Huawei in developing their 5G networks.
The US accuses Huawei of being a tool for Chinese espionage.
Pompeo is also scheduled to attend a meeting at the Vatican on religious freedom, his human rights priority. There, too, he will warn of China’s actions against minorities, including Muslims.
India reported its six millionth coronavirus case on Monday as it surged closer to the United States as the most-infected nation, and authorities pressed ahead with reigniting the economy.
The vast nation is home to 1.3 billion people, some of humanity’s most densely populated cities and a feeble health care system, and for several weeks it has reported around 90,000 new cases daily — the highest in the world.
Health ministry data showed a rise of 82,000 cases on Monday, taking the total to 6.1 million and closing the gap on the United States, which has recorded 7.1 million infections. India could leapfrog the US in the coming weeks.
India has a much lower death rate than other worst-hit nations with almost 100,000 fatalities so far — fewer than half the grisly toll of 205,000 recorded in the US, which has roughly a quarter of the population. Brazil has meanwhile recorded 140,000 deaths.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called on people to keep wearing face coverings when they ventured outside of their homes.
“These rules are weapons in the war against corona. They are potent tools to save the life of every citizen,” Modi said during his monthly radio address on Sunday.
The virus initially hit major metropolises including financial hub Mumbai and capital New Delhi, but has since spread to regional and rural areas where healthcare systems are even more fragile and patchy.
“In several of the pockets where the transmission is active, the infection has gone into the community,” former national health secretary Sujatha Rao told AFP.
“It is difficult to control transmission in such situations and a dramatic turnaround can perhaps be possible only through a rigorous implementation of a lockdown and preventive measures like mask wearing.”
– No Lockdown 2.0 –
The government is unlikely to reimpose major restrictions after a lockdown in March battered the economy and wrecked the livelihoods of millions of people, particularly the poor.
Some schools have now reopened, and trains, metros, domestic flights, markets and restaurants have been allowed to operate with some restrictions. The Taj Mahal also opened again for tourists this month.
Anand Krishnan, a community medicine professor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, said authorities should focus on treating people who contract the virus.
“The only thing that we can do is take care of people who are ill — identify them faster and treat them better. And follow the social-distancing norms,” he told AFP.
“Beyond that, I don’t think there is anything specific that can be done.”
Some locals in Delhi told AFP that while they remained cautious, their worries about the pandemic had lessened since the start of the year.
“I’m out of the house all day because of my work. I don’t step out of the house for anything else,” said 23-year-old medical store worker Umang Chutani.
“The future is uncertain but one can only be cautious and follow all safety protocols.”
Himanshu Kainthola, 61, who recovered from the virus last month after testing positive with two other relatives, said his family’s fears “have reduced substantially”.
“We have made peace with it. We take the necessary precautions and invest in increasing our immunity rather than being anxious or scared of it.”
Creative writing student Santosh added that the virus was now “part of our lives”.
“You cannot shutdown every business, because the economy cannot collapse… Covid-19 is not going to pay the rent,” he said.
US President Donald Trump demanded Sunday that his Democratic rival Joe Biden take a drug test either before or after the pair’s first debate on Tuesday, in his latest salvo against his opponent’s mental acuity.
“I will be strongly demanding a Drug Test of Sleepy Joe Biden prior to, or after, the Debate on Tuesday night,” Trump tweeted.
“Naturally, I will agree to take one also. His Debate performances have been record-setting UNEVEN, to put it mildly. Only drugs could have caused this discrepancy???” he continued, without offering any evidence for the claim.
Senate will ‘easily’ confirm Barrett
Meanwhile, the US President said Sunday the Senate will “easily” confirm his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett before the election, despite furious Democratic opposition to his bid to steer the court rightward for years to come.
Trump has nominated Barrett, a darling of conservatives for her religious views, to replace the late liberal justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a lifetime seat on the top court, potentially impacting some of the most partisan issues in America, from abortion to gun rights to health care.
His decision to push her nomination through just weeks before the tense and potentially disputed November 3 election, in which polls show he is the underdog, has galvanized Democrats, who are calling for the decision to be made by the winner of the vote.
His election rival, Democrat Joe Biden, has led the charge.
“The Senate should not act on this vacancy until after the American people select their next president and the next Congress,” Biden said Saturday, just moments after Trump announced Barrett’s nomination.
But Trump expressed confidence Sunday in an interview with “Fox & Friends.”
“I think we’re going to have it done easily before the election,” he said.
“I think it would be nice to do. Get it out of the way,” he continued, adding: “We have plenty of time.”
Barring a huge surprise, Republican senators, who have 53 out of 100 votes in the upper house of Congress, are expected to confirm Barrett.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has already announced that a vote will be held “this year.”
The British government will announce fresh steps Tuesday to try and stop a coronavirus surge in England, while the United States was on the verge of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths.
The pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down — more than 31.2 million infections have been detected worldwide, with 964,000 deaths — and nations are scrambling to contain new outbreaks.
The ramped-up response in Britain follows warnings that the country could see up to 50,000 cases a day by mid-October, and a month later exceed 200 deaths every day.
France and Spain are battling similar surges.
“If we don’t do enough, the virus will take off and at the moment that is the path that we are clearly on,” said Chris Whitty, the British government’s chief medical officer.
“And if we do not change course, then we are going to find ourselves in a very difficult problem.”
Under new rules to come into force on Thursday, English pubs, bars and other hospitality venues will be required to close at 10 pm. Food and drink outlets will also be restricted to table service only.
Many nations in Europe were easing restrictions after largely overcoming initial outbreaks, but the resurgence of the virus has forced them to tighten curbs again.
In the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Andrej Babis admitted Monday that the government had loosened restrictions too quickly.
“Even I got carried away by the coming summer and the general mood,” he said.
“That was a mistake I don’t want to make again.”
– ‘Lies and incompetence’ – The number of deaths in the United States was close to 200,000 on Tuesday, with infections in the worst-hit nation in the world approaching seven million.
Overall, the US accounts for four percent of the world’s population and 20 percent of its coronavirus deaths.
President Donald Trump has faced intense criticism of his handling of the crisis ahead of the November election.
“Due to Donald Trump’s lies and incompetence in the past six months, (we) have seen one of the gravest losses of American life in history,” his Democratic rival Joe Biden charged on Monday.
“With this crisis, a real crisis, a crisis that required serious presidential leadership, he just wasn’t up to it. He froze. He failed to act. He panicked. And America has paid the worst price of any nation in the world.”
Trump insisted Monday that the United States was “rounding the corner with or without a vaccine”.
But US Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell will warn Tuesday in testimony before a Congressional committee that a full recovery in the world’s biggest economy “is likely to come only when people are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities”, according to prepared remarks.
– ‘I’ll never return’ – A vaccine is considered crucial to ending the pandemic — with multiple development efforts underway around the world — but there are concerns that the poorest nations may not be able to access it.
More than 60 wealthy nations — but not China and the United States — have joined a programmed backed by the World Health Organization to facilitate poor countries’ access to vaccines, according to a list published Monday.
Until one is available, the options for treatment available to the less privileged are limited.
In Mexico, where more than 73,000 people have died, many are choosing to stay at home when they fall ill instead of seeking treatment at creaking public hospitals.
Jessica Castillo in Hidalgo state said she suffered for a week at home, and even had suicidal thoughts.
“I felt that the air I was breathing wasn’t entering my lungs,” said 43-year-old pastry chef, whose coronavirus recovery took more than a month.
“But I said: ‘If I go to hospital, I’ll never return’.”
The United States on Tuesday imposed economic sanctions on the wife of former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh, who was accused of corruption during his 22-year rule and is the target of similar measures.
“Zineb Jammeh is believed to control many of the overseas assets of her husband,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
He said the sanctions punish “her role in materially assisting, sponsoring, or providing support to her husband. She utilized a charitable foundation and charities as cover to facilitate the illicit transfer of funds to her husband.”
The former Gambian first lady’s US assets will be blocked, the Treasury said.
Jammeh ruled The Gambia with an iron fist but fled in January 2017 after losing a presidential election to relative unknown Adama Barrow, which he refused to acknowledge before being forced out of power by a popular uprising.
In 2018, Washington blocked Jammeh, his wife and their children from traveling to the United States.
All were placed on the blacklist for those suspected of large-scale corruption or major human rights abuses in The Gambia, a tiny West African country surrounded by Senegal.
Amazon has banned sales of imported seeds in the United States after thousands of Americans said they had received packets of seeds they had not ordered, mostly from China.
“Moving forward, we are only permitting the sale of seeds by sellers who are based in the US,” the e-commerce giant said in a statement Saturday.
In late July the Department of Agriculture reported that packages of seeds had been sent to Americans and warned not to plant them, in case they posed a danger to US agriculture.
Examination of the mystery packages revealed at least 14 different kinds of seeds, including mint, mustard, rosemary, lavender, hibiscus and roses.
“At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales,” the Department of Agriculture said in a statement on August 12.
The United States and Colombia on Monday announced the launch of a new joint plan to combat drug trafficking, including investments in areas affected by violence.
Colombian President Ivan Duque and US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien made the joint statement at the presidential palace in Bogota, following a meeting. They did not specify the exact amount of resources allocated to the plan.
O’Brien said the US “will support all of Colombia’s efforts… to ensure security in the country, to combat criminal organizations, some of which are transnational, and in doing so, we will help create the conditions for economic growth” in both nations.
Duque added that the US government “has not only seen the importance of… continuing to effectively combat drug trafficking and terrorism,” but also of “combining those efforts… with quality investment in places that have been affected by violence.”
They both presented the initiative as a new phase of the “Plan Colombia,” an aid package from Washington aimed at combating drug trafficking in the South American country.
The US gave Colombia more than $7 billion between 2000 and 2016 under the Plan Colombia agreement, but the money ended up being used to fight guerillas without eliminating the drug trade.
The announcement comes amid a spike in violence throughout Colombia, resulting in 33 massacres so far this year, according to the UN.
The UN believes that criminal gangs are responsible for nearly 80 percent of massacres in Colombia this year, the vast majority of them occurring in departments with “illegal coca-producing enclaves.”
The United States on Sunday reached the extraordinary milestone of five million coronavirus cases as President Donald Trump was accused of flouting the constitution by unilaterally extending a virus relief package.
The US has been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, recording nearly 163,000 deaths — by far the highest of any country, ahead only of Brazil, which on Saturday became the second country to pass 100,000 deaths.
The global death toll is at least 727,288 since the novel coronavirus emerged in China last December, according to a running tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
Nearly 20 million cases have been registered worldwide — probably reflecting only a fraction of the actual number of infections.
As around much of the globe, the small African country of Malawi on Sunday imposed tight social restrictions to try to contain the disease, shutting all bars and churches, while hot weekend weather drew crowds in Europe to the beach.
In Washington, the new virus relief package — announced by Trump on Saturday after talks between Republican and Democrat lawmakers hit a wall — was “absurdly unconstitutional,” senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi told CNN.
Fellow Democrat and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, appearing on ABC, dismissed Trump’s unilateral measures as “unworkable, weak and far too narrow.”
But with the nation’s economy still struggling to dig itself out of an enormous hole, Democrats appeared skittish about any legal challenge to a relief package they see as seriously inadequate.
The four executive orders Trump signed Saturday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey will, among other things, defer payroll taxes and provide some temporary unemployment benefits.
The president was seen as keen to show himself taking decisive action ahead of a November 3 election that could see him ousted from office, with polls showing a large majority of voters unhappy with his handling of the crisis.
On Sunday night, Trump blamed what he called Democratic stubbornness for his being forced to take executive action.
“The Democrats were unwilling to do anything,” Trump told reporters as he boarded Air Force One to return to Washington.
“It was time to act,” he said. “We have to get money out to the people.”
Democrats say the president’s orders infringe on Congress’s constitutional authority over the federal budget.
But Pelosi demurred when asked about possible legal action, saying, “Whether (it was) legal or not takes time to figure out.”
White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow defended the new measures.
“Maybe we’re going to go to court on them. We’re going to go ahead with our actions anyway,” he said.
Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential election, Joe Biden, tweeted that five million coronavirus cases was “a number that boggles the mind and breaks the heart.
“It shouldn’t have gotten this bad,” he said.
The US on Sunday had added 47,197 new cases in 24 hours, with 532 additional deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
US fatalities now total 162,913, and the number of infections is 5,041,473, the Baltimore-based university said.
Elsewhere, growing infections in and around Paris prompted French officials to make face masks compulsory outdoors in crowded areas and tourist hotspots in the city and surrounding areas from Monday.
The mask will be obligatory for all those aged 11 and over in “very crowded zones,” said a police statement, including the banks of the Seine River and more than 100 streets in the French capital.
As temperatures soared across western Europe, holidaymakers crowded beaches at the weekend despite warnings about the risk of infection.
Local authorities in Germany warned that some beaches and lakes would be closed if there were too many people.
Belgian police meanwhile arrested several people Saturday at the resort of Blankenberge after a brawl broke out on a beach between officers and youths they had told to leave for refusing to respect virus safety measures.
Around 5,000 people demonstrated in Vienna for increased financial support for nightlife and relaxing coronavirus regulations.
In Peru, indigenous people armed with spears and angry over what they consider government neglect of their communities in the pandemic assaulted a settlement for oil workers deep in the Amazon, triggering a clash with police that left three natives dead, the government said Sunday.
Back in the US, in another burst of defiance over health warnings, thousands of bikers converged on a town in South Dakota for what is billed as the largest cycle gathering in the world.
In past years, the 10-day rally in Sturgis has drawn hundreds of thousands of bikers to socialize, drink and party together — raising fears among some locals that this year’s version could be a superspreader event.
President Donald Trump on Thursday said that a vaccine may be produced ahead of the US presidential election on November 3 — a more optimistic timeline than given by his top infectious diseases doctor.
Asked by radio talk show host Geraldo Rivera whether a vaccine could come by the election, Trump said: “I think in some cases, yes, possible before. But right around that time.”
Trump said the vaccine would be ready “sooner than the end of the year. Could be much sooner.”
“We have a lot of vaccines under study by the way. We look like we’re going to be really good on vaccines and therapeutics also,” he said.
A more careful note was sounded on Wednesday by Dr Anthony Fauci, a lead government official on the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Fauci said he was “cautiously optimistic” of success and that “somewhere towards the end of the year, the beginning of 2021, we will know whether they have a safe and effective vaccine.”
The Trump administration is pouring federal funds into vaccine development, seen as the only way to stop the virus and end the mass shutdowns and social distancing that have crippled economies around the world.